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The Purposeful Primitive - Iron Methods
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The Purposeful Primitive - Iron Methods

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""Marty Gallagher has produced an absolute classic! I couldn't put it down... packed with real no b.s info from real ironmen. I am proud to be included with the outstanding athletes and their stories... A breath of fresh air!"
-Dorian Yates, 6-time IFBB Mr. Olympia

The Purposefully Primitive
Resistance Training Amalgamation

Amalgamate is defined as "merging into a single body." The Purposefully Primitive training amalgamation is not a merging of all methods into a single body, rather our amalgamation is the steady rotation of Master methods. Instead of throwing all the Iron Methods of all the Iron Masters into the equivalent of a philosophic blender to create a single diluted hybrid, our amalgamation is of a different flavor. We respect each approach and each method as if it were an amazing ethnic dish served at a gourmet restaurant.

We amalgamate by alternating methods or by slight modification. Each Method of each Master offers a splendid tactical template for use at different times during your resistance training career. One Purposefully Primitive tenet is that all systems eventually cease delivering results. When stagnation eventually and inevitably occurs we need to be ready with another equally effective resistance training regimen that contrasts dramatically to the approach being used.

When constructing a resistance training regimen, so much depends on the…

Recapitulation of Modes and Methods

Now that you have been introduced to the ten Iron Masters and their individualistic training systems, a recap could be beneficial: do any of the various approaches appeal to you? People have likes and dislikes and often being exposed to a new way in which to train infuses the individual's efforts with wild enthusiasm.

Progressive resistance training taught at local health clubs and YMCAs is uniformly boring, standardized and ineffectual. Round pegs (clients) are routinely jammed into square holes using cookie-cutter resistance programs that just don't work. The typical health club or YMCA offers pabulum resistance training programs that are a complete waste of time. Know-nothing "trainers" instruct wide-eyed clients how to perform meaningless exercises that produce zero results. There is no point in having trainees perform…

What The Iron Masters Have In Common

  1. The elite use free weights to near exclusion: From Anderson to Yates, all the Iron Masters make barbells and dumbbells their weapon of choice because they are superior tools. The very rawness of hoisting barbells and dumbbells is what makes them so effective for muscle and strength building. Smooth and efficient is not nearly as good as crude and difficult when the name of the game is triggering hypertrophy. Free weights trump mimicking machines every single time and in every single instance.
  2. Sessions are centered on core compound multi-joint exercises: The Iron Elite start off every training session with one of the core compound multi-joint exercises. These exercises force groups of muscles to work together in synchronous fashion to complete the assigned muscular task. The synchronized interaction between contiguous muscles actually…

How to Build Muscle

Let us be clear on what a sensible progressive resistance program will and will not do: a sensible weight training program builds and strengthens the 600-plus muscles of the human body. Weight training alone will not make you leaner, nor will it melt off stored body fat. The caloric cost of weight training is insignificant when compared to sustained cardiovascular exercise. A torrid weight training session lasting 45 minutes might burn off 200 to 300 calories, depending upon the size of the trainee. Resistance training, with its rest periods and uneven exertions, is not a particularly effective calorie oxidizer. Even cardiovascular exercise is too often overestimated as a calorie burner. Tooling along at a heart-pounding, 15 calorie per minute pace, even after 30 minutes the trainee has only burned 450 calories; the exact caloric content of a medium size order of McDonald's French fries.

The profound purpose of proper resistance training is two-fold:…

Getting Started
The Nine Critical Free Weight Exercises

Building muscle and strength has been made overly complex by a fitness industry dedicated to selling exercise equipment. Truth be known, there are nine basic free weight exercises that can and will deliver all the results a serious individual can expect from a progressive resistance routine. There are a half dozen or so additional auxiliary free weight exercises that are legitimate variations on the nine core exercises.

You need only a barbell, dumbbells, a sturdy exercise bench that inclines and a primitive set of squat racks. A safety power rack is needed by intermediate and advanced trainees that train alone. Effective muscle and strength building is a raw, brutal undertaking and anyone who tells you different either doesn't know what they are talking about or are trying to sell you a product.

The Iron Masters know that the diligent use of…


Free Weight Squat: I have new trainees work up to 50 free weight squats without poundage before I allow them to transition to plate squats. After all, if you can't do a proper weightless squat, how will you be able to do a correct one holding a heavy plate, much less a barbell perched precariously on your back? Assume a shoulder width stance, inhale, break the knees, push the butt rearward; knees out as you descend and ascend. Maintain a bolt upright torso. Knees are not allowed to travel forward out over toes. Descend with tension and precision, squat deep then arise explosively.

Plate Squat: The plate squat is an interim step. The trainee clutches a plate to their chest as they squat. (Photo 1) Observe all the free weight squat rules: sit back—not down! (Photo 2) Spread the knees and keep knees…

Bench Press

Incline Free Weight Pushup: Some beginners cannot do a single bench press with the lightest dumbbells. Find a sturdy support 3-4 feet off the ground. Stand three feet away, extend the arms and keep the body straight. Lower to the support. (Photo 2) Push back up while keeping the body rigid. The lower down the push-surface the more difficult the upward push. Three sets of however many reps you can do, three times a week. Lower the surface when you can…

Overhead Press

There are three distinct overhead press variations. Each one can be done standing or seated: the barbell press, the dumbbell press and the press behind the neck (PBN). In the standing overhead barbell and dumbbell press, power clean a weight to the shoulders, lean back ever so slightly, lock the legs and freeze the back. Now push upward as close to the face as possible. Use a shoulder width grip. In the PBN, set the loaded bar in the squat rack, shoulder it and step back. Use a wide grip, same as the wide grip bench press. Press the weight overhead. Be careful to not…

Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is traditionally done while holding a barbell and is a spinal erector exercise. Our version is done holding a single barbell plate and is a hamstring isolation exercise without peer. This is the most intense and effective of all hamstring exercises and is difficult to describe. Done with improper technique, this exercise disintegrates into a worthless, sub-maximal erector exercise.

Assume a Sumo deadlift stance and stand erect holding a plate. Break forward at the…

Auxiliary Exercises


Front Squat: This is a fabulous exercise; next to back squats, the second best leg exercise known to man. Load a barbell on the squat rack, step under the poundage using front squat hand position. (Photo 1) Break the bar from the squat rack, step backwards and set the feet in a back squat stance. Now take a huge breath and squat down. Upon breaking the knees, push the…


Power Clean: Technically tricky, this is an outstanding overall back developer. The power clean is the second best of all back exercises, next to the deadlift. The PC blasts traps, spinal erectors, teres, lats and rhomboids.

Use a shoulder width stance and shoulder width grip. Squat down in a conventional deadlift start position. Now pull a light barbell upward in one fluid motion. (Photo 1) The barbell is pulled straight up. Use a weight that you can pull to shoulder height for 10 reps easily. At the pulls peak, snap the wrists under, catching the barbell on the shoulders. (Photo 2) Stand erect cradling the bar. (Photo 3) This is one rep. Flip the bar off the shoulders and…

Two Day a Week Training

Weight training twice a week is the bare minimum. Even in the primordial world of the Purposeful Primitive, twice a week is the least amount of training required for a serious effort.

Our amalgamated template for twice-a-week training is super simplistic: perform the three 1st Tier core lifts or their close variations twice a week. A beginner would perform three sets of each. Advanced trainees might want to add "back-off sets." This routine is the barest of the bare and must be executed with sufficient intensity. This routine can be extremely productive. It is a result-producing legitimate strength approach that is the absolute best entry-level program for a beginner.

It can be amped-up for advanced trainees by adding the…

Three Day a Week Training

The three day a week Purposefully Primitive amalgamated training template is the last of the routines wherein the entire body is blasted, head to toe, in the same session. I used this template successfully for the first five years of my own lifting career. This approach is classic: I got it from the Mac McCallum and Bill Starr in ancient Strength & Health Magazines.

A three day a week routine always works well for athletes involved with competitive sports as it allows plenty of time for other athletic activities. The stronger you get, the longer it will take to get through this "Big Man" Routine. You will need a couple days to recover. Then you hit it again. In the three day a week training regimen, add Tier II exercises: standing overhead press, barbell curl and tricep press/extension, to the existing menu of Tier I Exercises. Periodize the squats, bench presses, deadlifts and overhead pressing. No need to cycle arms. This approach works phenomenally well for…

Four Day a Week Training

If you engage in serious progressive resistance training long enough you become stronger. Biological fact: if you train the way we tell you, you will make size and strength gains.

Basically, when your strength reaches a certain point, whole body routines take too long. The exercises at the end of the elongated whole body routine invariably suffer. What good is it to handle 150x6 in an exercise at the ass-end of a whole body session when you can handle 150x10 when fresh? Session stamina and pure fatigue comes into play more and more as you…

Five Day a Week Training

I like to use an amalgamated variation of Bob Bednarski's rolling training split. You could also use the "straight/no chaser" Ed Coan program pulled directly from the Master Method section. The choice is yours. My Bednarski-inspired rolling progression concentrates on a…

Six Day a Week Training

Some people love to weight train. They have the time, they have the situation, they have the energy and they have the inclination to train and train often. Some people are psychologically adapted to do more, but to not do it as hard.

At one polar opposite of the bodybuilding world stands Dorian Yates, the mover of mountains, the power and bulk monster. The Diesel has more in common, from a training approach and workout prospective, with the likes of Kirk Karwoski or Ed Coan (or Kaz) than he does with Bill Pearl or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Dorian trains like a powerlifter that uses forced reps on the last set of each exercise.

At the other extreme of the bodybuilding world stands Bill Pearl. Bill trains each muscle two or three times a week. Dorian trains a muscle once a week and uses much heavier weight. Bill uses a blistering workout pace and gets an intense cardio bump during his weight workout. Bill Pearl is a volume trainer. Dorian is an intensity trainer. Bill, like Arnold and Sergio and Franco and all the other volume training greats of the early 70s, routinely performed…

Periodization & Preplanning
Stair-Stepping Progress Upward Via
Creeping Incrementalism

Periodization is a tactical template used by elite athletes to morph from out-of-shape into best shape ever.

After a competition athletes let themselves detune and soften up a bit. Attempting to hold 100% of peak condition year round is physiologically impossible and psychologically a ticket to the mental ward.

Understand that peak condition is a ebb and flow proposition, and the logical question becomes, how can we maneuver the body from out-of-shape, coming off a competition, into best-shape-ever, leading up to the next competition?

Periodization is not so much a method as it is a…

Periodization and Creeping Incrementalism

All Purposefully Primitive resistance trainers use periodization, pre-planning, in order to morph from current physical condition into vastly improved physical condition. The use of a timeline allows us to convert small weekly gains into huge cumulative gains. Monthly mesocycles are broken into weekly microcycles.

Empirical experience has shown that four weeks to six weeks is about the right amount of time to work a particular progress vein. Less than four weeks and the individual could be accused of not giving the selected mode or method enough time to bear fruit. Staying with a non-productive mode for longer than 4-6 weeks is…

Logging Entries

Almost without exception elite athletes log training results and do so in real time, as the workout is actually occurring. Immediately after finishing a set, you'll see the elite pick up their little spiral notebooks and with hands still shaking from exertion, jot down what just happened.

Why do they go to the trouble?

The athletic elite review results every week to detect trends, mull over what has occurred and plot the next step. Based on the data, they make…

Praise for Marty Gallagher's The Purposeful Primitive

"I would venture to say that I have read every book pertaining to weightlifting over the last three decades, and I have probably read the majority of the articles in this area. There are two things I can say unequivocally about what I have read. One, Marty Gallagher is the best writer in the world of physical fitness and strength, bar none, and two, Gallagher's newest book The Purposeful Primitive is the best manuscript ever produced in this field.

Teeming with esoteric information on training, biomechanics, nutrition, and sport psychology, The Purposeful Primitive is a wealth of information that every serious lifter needs to read. You are going to like this book. NO! You are going to LOVE it. I promise you that. It's Gallagher's best work, and that means it is strictly world class."
—Dr. Judd Biasiotto, author of 46 fitness and health-related books, world powerlifting champion

"I really only have two things to say about Marty Gallagher that bear on his new book, The Purposeful Primitive. The first is that there are two classes of writers in powerlifting: 1) Marty Gallagher and 2) all others. The second is that one day, ten years ago, Marty called to say he knew a Russian guy who he thought might be a good writer for MILO, so we invited the guy to submit an article: It was called Vodka, Pickle Juice, Kettlebell Lifting and other Russian Pastimes, the author was Pavel Tsatsouline, and rest, as they say, is history."
—Randall J. Strossen, Ph.D, Publisher and Editor-in-chief, Milo Magazine

"As a student, athlete, teacher, researcher, professional coach, and businessman I have spent over 60 years in health, fitness and sport, devoted to 'how to become the best you can be'. The Purposeful Primitive has been a very interesting journey for me... back-to-the-future...

Marty does a wonderful job bringing out the art and science of training, extracting many of the critical universal and specific principles (guiding rules to action—social, emotional, mental, physical and spiritual) that are applicable to living a productive life in general, and in training for health, fitness and sport, specifically. In addition, I like the way Marty personalizes the lives of outstanding athletes and shows how they applied these fundamental, can't-miss principles in their training to help them become the best they could be in their sport. My recommendation: if you want to achieve something 'great in your life', add The Purposeful Primitive to your training library… yesterday."
—Dr. Bob Ward, Sports Science Network, former head strength and conditioning coach, Dallas Cowboys

"For those who buy or judge reading material by size, number of pages, volume, or distance able to be thrown and cause damage, Marty has your back on this one. For the intellectual athlete who actually thirsts for knowledge and sees content as King, you will get 30 years of genius and experience in the Iron Game mixed with the passion and ability of Hemmingway all wrapped up in one book and the result is The Purposeful Primitive. From me to you—Go buy the book and enjoy!!"
—Rickey Dale Crain, IPF/WPC/AAU World Champion, 2000 Powerlifting Hall of Fame Inductee

"Marty Gallagher is a brilliant writer who thinks deeply about subjects he knows and loves. His manifesto/encyclopedia contains a ton of wisdom, one-of-a-kind role models, awesome color photos… a truly fascinating read."
—Clarence Bass, author of the Ripped series, Lean For Life, Challenge Yourself, and Great Expectations

"Marty Gallagher has written a most interesting book that contains not only telling first hand biographies from powerlifting's heyday, but the routines and mindset of the top practitioners of the strength pursuit. His style is rich with anecdote, at the same time being right on point regarding the many divergent paths to the attainment of fitness. The basic truths underlying those paths have been distilled down to a certainty, allowing the reader to intelligently compose their own program. Good job from one who sought intensely over many years to grasp the essence of power and fitness and most importantly loves what he does."
—Hugh Cassidy, first world heavyweight powerlifting champion

"What can one say with certainty about the author of this book—Marty Gallagher? Nothing other than the facts that he has 'been there and done that' as an 800-plus pound squatter! That he has written over a thousand articles about fitness and nutrition in the published print media (not to include his amazing blog). That he is not just a genius, but the best interviewer and storyteller going. And that he has not only truly trained the world's strongest athletes, but that he has distilled the most useful information from 15 of the foremost weight lifters, bodybuilders, psychologists and 'bodymaster' nutritionists of the last half century into a form that can be used by anyone from overweight, exercise-adverse beginner to world champions in their sports.

From Olympic lifting to power lifting and bodybuilding, whether muscle gain or fat loss, from cooking to supplements, from changing exercise and eating habits to molding the psychology of a champion (whether one is even remotely interested in competition or not), Marty has covered it all. I only wish I had had a book like this when I was growing up and trying my best to get bigger and stronger. Marty has demonstrated, without question, that he is the current and undeniably best 'trainer of champions' and 'ultimate guide to physical—and mental—transformation.' This book not only provides the simplest instructions and cheapest financial and lifestyle requirements, it is absolutely the single best book ever written on being the best you can be physically and otherwise."
—James E. Wright, Ph.D, former Director of Sports Science, U.S. Army Physical Fitness School; former Health and Science Editor, Flex Magazine

"Absolutely magnificent. What a breathtaking book on a life with iron. Marty Gallagher delivers an outstanding, comprehensive book with a writing style worthy of Hemingway himself. This book takes you on a journey through the iron-history of the great ones and in the most sophisticated way Marty presents probably the best ever written material on life, iron and mental fortitude.

This book is impossible to put down once you start reading it. It should be the first read of any who aspire to lift weights and be healthy. There are not enough words in the English language (or Danish for that matter) to describe how excellent this book is. It is an absolute must to any Strength & Health enthusiast. I give it my highest recommendation!!"
—Kenneth "the Dane of Pain" Jay, MSc, Sr. RKC

"Gallagher takes the gems of the greatest strength athletes in history and distills the keys to success for all of us.

After reviewing profile after profile after profile of great strength trainers in history, Gallagher goes the next step: he sums up their approaches then shows that all of them are right. As a person trained in the basics of theology, I understood immediately Gallagher's great point: it's not 'either/or' when it comes to strength and body mass, it is 'both/and'. I live by the coaching point: 'Everything works...for a while,' and Gallagher breathes flesh and blood into this principle.

There is so much more to this book, of course. The mental training section blends the Western and Eastern approaches to the mind game of training. Again, we find 'both/and', but Gallagher also spends a lot of time detailing how to incorporate these tools in one's training.

But wait, there's more! There is a section on cardio training for strength athletes that really makes me more comfortable with this notion of 'doing cardio'. It's nice to see the return for the widely misunderstood teachings of Len Schwartz's Heavy Hands. Moreover, we see a commonsense approach to this whole overhyped field.

The section on diet towards the end of the book again reflects the idea of both/and'. It is simply this: refreshing. Gallagher gives clarity to the calorie conundrum. Yes, every diet approach works, but Gallagher shows us a way to link them together. Truly, this man of experience understands that success leaves footprints and every approach is worthy of discussion.

Oh, this book is a joy. I put this book next to Tommy Kono's Weightlifting, Olympic Style for sheer fun and delight and love of training. I am convinced that I will probably keep reading The Purposeful Primitive in bits and snips for years. It's just fun and funny while pounding into the reader the 'secrets' of advanced training. Many won't like the message. The secrets involve training really hard and really heavy."
—Daniel John, Head Track and Field Coach, Juan Diego Catholic High School, American Record Holder, Masters Weight Pentathlon

"The Purposeful Primitive both inspired me, and also challenged some of my long-held notions about strength and athleticism. In the foreword, Pavel calls Marty Gallagher his mentor, and once you read this book, you'll understand why. The Purposeful Primitive is the most significant strength-training book I've read in 10 years."
—Charles Staley, Staley Training Systems

"Marty's literary style intrigued me and I could not put the book down!! I was drawn into being educated by a powerlifter that made points that would make me a better high school teacher/coach as well as an excellent Olympic weightlifting coach.

I was hooked by page 263, with Marty's 'physical and psychological weak points'. "What's the toughest lesson to learn in all of fitnessdom? I would nominate prioritizing weaknesses and not continually playing to our strength.' There it is! That did it! If nothing else, this chapter needs to be read by all coaches and by all athletes and all trainers in the fitness world…

I highly recommend The Purposeful Primitive as a must read."
—Mike Burgener, Senior International Weightlifting Coach, Coach for the Junior World Women's Weightlifting Team

"Marty Gallagher has convincingly presented the concept that successful people in all domains 'stand upon the shoulders of those who have gone before them.' He has accurately indicated that most of the fitness gurus and elite athletes of today are chasing after the golden fleece instead of following the tried, true and scientifically and empirically proven and validated principles of physical training, cardiovascular training, nutrition and psychology.

Marty characterizes this by stating; 'Old school methodology is the modern solution for achieving true physical transformation.' Readers will sink their teeth into the substance and procedures of the masters found between the covers of The Purposeful Primitive.

The Purposeful Primitive is an enlightening read, filled with great insights into the masters of the last century in Olympic Lifting, Powerlifting, Bodybuilding, Cardiovascular Training, Nutrition and Psychology.

Great job Marty Gallagher, master of: writing, powerlifting, physical training, cardiovascular training, nutrition and psychology."
—Dr. Paul Ward, PED, QPT Publications

"WOW! My old friend Marty knocked this one out of the park.

I was so fascinated I could not put the book down. These are exactly the routines most of us experienced in those days. It brought back a lot of memories.

For all you young powerlifters out there who want to build real power like we did it in the old days this is the book to get. Thank you so much Marty."
—Dan Wohleber, former national powerlifting champion, multiple world record holder, 1st man to deadlift 900 pounds

"When Marty called and asked if I could pose for a few photos for his new book, I knew I didn't have to worry about associating myself with anything he was writing. I knew it would be a quality book focused on proven, basic training principles and based on Marty's vast store of real, first-hand knowledge. What I didn't know until receiving my copy and really giving it a close look, was that I was stumbling across a small role in one of the most comprehensive, well-written, and above all else, entertaining, books on weight training that's ever been written.

I have a pretty extensive strength training library, and Marty's book belongs on the top shelf with Dreschler's Weightlifting Encyclopedia, Starr's The Strongest Shall Survive, McCallum's Keys to Progress, and McRobert's Brawn. I realize now how lucky I am to have been in the right place at the right time to be a small part of Marty's crowning achievement and lasting contribution to the Iron Game. Thanks so much Marty for not letting these great stories and this wealth of information fade away with the old masters!"
—Chuck Miller, attorney, journalist, C.S.C.S., AAU world and national powerlifting champion

"I enjoyed Marty Gallagher's new book and particularly liked his 'resurrection' of the methods of the Iron Masters. So much of that Old School training wisdom has been forgotten or discarded in our modern era. The training philosophies of men like Bill Pearl and Ed Coan are timeless and grounded in principles that have stood the test of time. These philosophies are based in the idea that first and foremost, hard and sustained physical effort must be implemented for a protracted period. This requires using lots of Old School discipline.

I agree with Marty's premise that to modify the human body, to improve it, to make it more muscular and leaner, requires real work. Too many individuals in this day and age want to believe that some miracle method exists that can magically bypass the requisite pain and struggle. By spotlighting men from a simpler era, Marty shows that real gains can be gotten from methods that need not be unduly complicated. I would hope that modern readers could absorb some of the iconic lessons he relates in his own unique way."
—John Parrillo, CEO Parrillo Performance Products

"I have been studying the industry for 20 years. Marty is in a class of his own. Combine his fitness knowledge with a unique talent for writing and one has an unbeatable combination."
—Larry Christ, multi-time national master powerlifting champion

"Once again, Marty Gallagher has proven that he is powerlifting's most articulate and informative writer. The Purposeful Primitive is an outstanding read, with credible and essential information for beginners and elite lifters alike. I will be honored to promote the book at my gym and the many contests we host each year."
—Dr. Spero S. Tshontikidis, R.A.W. United, Inc.

"Wow! Marty Gallagher did a tremendous job! Not only was it a very interesting and entertaining read, but it can be used as a reference manual. A must read for anyone interested in fitness and or strength."
—Bob Gaynor, WPC World Record holder

"Marty Gallagher has laid out simple tried and true old school principles that yield results. I believe that is what this book is all about; results. In a world full of bells and whistles, this book is a great reminder of what training should look like. I think this is an outstanding resource for physical transformation. I would recommend this book to anyone who is serious about building a real-world body."
—Tim Anderson, RKC Level II, CPT

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